Don’t Let Your Teeth Mouth Off!

Understanding and practicing the tenets of good oral health should be an important part of our general personal wellness strategy. We should eat well, exercise regularly, protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, sleep soundly, comply with medical direction and focus daily on maintaining a healthy mouth!

Oral health is not only important to our appearance and sense of well-being, but also to our overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to serious conditions such as diabetes and respiratory disease, and untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections. Poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect our ability to chew and digest food properly.

There are threats to oral health across the lifespan. Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease; this increases to one in every four adults aged 65 years and older. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly those over 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses.

The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. There also is a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

With proper care, your teeth and gums can remain healthy throughout your life. There are four basic steps to caring for teeth and gums:

  • Brushing
  • Flossing
  • Eating right
  • Visiting the dentist

Brush teeth and gums at least twice a day. If you can, brush 30 minutes to one hour after every meal. Brushing removes plaque. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities.

Flossing our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene. Often overlooked, it should be practiced adjunct to brushing daily. While brushing is critical, flossing does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If teeth are close together, try thin floss that bills itself as “shred resistant.”

Bridges and braces require more effort to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth, followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

The third step to good oral health is proper nutrition. Food high in processed sugars and fats are not good for body or your teeth – they contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even certain types of cancers. A well-rounded, vitamin-rich, balanced diet high in fiber and filled with vegetables, fruits and plenty of water will help you maintain a healthy mouth, as well as a healthier body.

Finally, make sure and visit a dentist regularly for preventative screenings, and to check for cavities, infections or other abnormalities. As we age, the prevention or removal of plaque becomes more important for heart health, and regular checkups and diagnostic images can tell your dentist what’s going on “behind the scenes” in our mouths. Don’t wait for something to hurt before you go to the dentist – remember, the rest of your body is counting on your mouth!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!